Old Blog Entries

Brent Bourgeois

The time for talking’s over now, I guess it’s time to let you go. But I don’t, no, I don’t mind at all… Bourgeois Tagg’s late eighties hit “I Don’t Mind at All” is a wonderfully crafted pop song that I personally never get tired of listening to. I still vividly recall the late nights spent dissecting the song note by note with my college buddies trying to figure out exactly how to play the song on our acoustic guitars. after all these years, the song still holds up to this day and has remained a top favorite among fans of Brent Bourgeois and his former band, Bourgeois Tagg. I recently caught up with the man himself, Mr. Brent Bourgeois to talk about his music, his production work, his stint as an A&R executive at Word Records and his recent decision to walk away from the music business altogether. Read on for the exclusive Retroblog interview…

retroDan: Hey Brent! I recently learned that your son, Adrian Bourgeois, is off to a great start with his own musical career. he’s won a Sammie (Sacramento Area Music Award) for best songwriter and his debut album was recently released on C-Side Records. You must be very proud. How does it feel to have your son in the “biz”?

Brent Bourgeois: To be honest with you, I’m concerned. He’s a really good songwriter and very talented at playing just about anything, but he has that one-track mind that is disturbing to see as a parent. There is nothing inevitable in the music industry. I would like to see him finish college. There I am, turning into my father. Actually, my father was more encouraging about a music career than I am. He didn’t know what I know.

retroDan: How heavily involved were you in Adrian’s “musical” upbringing?

Brent: He was teamed-up on by me and my friends from a very early age; I gave him the Beatles, my good friend Steve Mitchell gave him the Beach Boys, and my older brother kept sending him cassettes filled with Oldies rock tunes. He didn’t stand a chance at a normal childhood. He knows more rock trivia than anyone I have ever known.

retroDan: Did he get to tag along with you to recording sessions?

Brent: Once in a while, and he would get on the drums most of the time. To this day, drums are the only instrument I would hire him on as a studio musician.

retroDan: now, you were based in Nashville for a number of years, producing other Christian artists as well as heading up the A&R dept. at Word Records. What made you decide to move back to California?

Brent: Several things; the most important being that I had made a promise to my wife to come back in five years. Eight years later, we came back. We left at the nadir of the music industry- no one was working. The idea of a thing called ‘the Christian music industry’ had soured in my mind.

retroDan: looking through some of your production work, Larry Tagg’s name seems to come up quite often as bass player. it seems you’re having some difficulty getting rid of the guy. j/k How is your relationship with your former partner from Bourgeois Tagg ?

Brent: Funny you should ask– as I speak we are exchanging by email chapters of books that we are writing; his is on Lincoln, and mine is an historical novel. He is a very good writer.

retroDan: do you stay in touch with the rest of the gang from Bourgeois Tagg?

Brent: Not like I should. Lyle Workman lives in LA and is very busy with his successful music career, Mike Urbano lives in the East Bay and has done quite well for himself, and Scott Moon is here in Sacramento running a science fiction software company.

retroDan: What broke up the band in the first place? was this before or after Todd Rundgren took your whole rhythm section (Tagg, Urbano and Workman) out on the road to support his “Nearly Human” album?

Brent: It was before. It was my fault. I wasn’t being a good band member. I was writing introspective songs. I didn’t like the sessions we did with Peter Wolf- in my opinion he sucked out every good thing about our band right down into his Synclavier. And I seemed to be the only one who felt that way. There was a tremendous amount of pressure to have a really big hit, and I thought it resulted in decisions that weren’t in the best interests of the band. So I left. It didn’t go down well. Very soon after that, Todd asked all of us to play on his ‘Nearly Human’ album. It was weird vibes, considering, but it was a good experience. When he put his tour together, I had already gotten a solo deal with Virgin, so he took the other guys.

retroDan: Since you’re a music producer yourself, i thought it’d be interesting to hear your take on all the major producers you’ve worked with in your career- namely Todd Rundgren, Danny Kortchmar, Charlie Peacock?

Brent: Todd Rundgren is much more of a musical influence than an ‘in the studio’ influence. He taught me something very important: to be really honest lyrically. His chord changes and melodic sense have obviously influenced my writing as well. As a producer in the studio, he was a disappointment. His idea of a compliment was a heavy sigh and something like, “That didn’t bother me.” Danny Kortchmar is a nice guy. He let me do my thing and added great guitar parts. He got Steve Jordan to play on the record which was a trip. I liked working with him. Charlie Peacock is one my best friends and a mentor in ways more significant than music. I also worked with a guy named David Holman, who is an absolutely fantastic engineer and taught me a lot about listening and the way to get sounds.

retroDan: you seem to take a more involved role as a producer, co-writing with the artist, playing keyboards and singing background harmonies. is this your preferred way of producing?

Brent: This happens most often because it’s the expedient thing to do. It’s all part of the package; if I can play it, we don’t have to hire someone else to. If I can sing a harmony, it gets done quicker, and it’s one less background singer to pay for. The writing is only when asked. Some producers are engineers; that becomes part of their package. I’m a musician, vocalist and songwriter; it’s just part of my package.

retroDan: do you miss performing either on stage or on your own recordings?

Brent: I don’t miss performing. Well, honestly, I really don’t miss all the things that go into putting on a performance; I like the part where you’re on the stage okay, but not enough to do it anymore. I love playing in the studio, and producing young artists. I wish there were more opportunities.

retroDan: I saw you perform back in 1995, opening for the group PFR in a local church activity center. I really enjoyed hearing you perform your songs in an intimate setting like that, just you and your piano. How was that experience for you, promoting your music in a low-key manner, playing in front of an audience without a band?

Brent: It was fun playing with PFR. It was also my first experience performing in front of a Christian audience. What a trip! They liked everything! At mainstream concerts, if the crowd didn’t know who you were, it could get downright dangerous. I always felt that playing just piano and singing was boring after a couple of songs. I would have bored myself.

retroDan: what’s your personal opinion about your three solo records after all these years? are you the type of artist that looks back at their work fondly or the type that is overly critical of his own work?

Brent: I can honestly say that I think my Christian record, Come Join the Living World , holds up really well to this day. A Matter of Feel feels dated because it was too programmed with a Roland Sampler. It had to do with the same kind of decisions that I left Bourgeois Tagg over- only this time I did it to myself. That record was half-a-record, really; half of those songs were pop songs I originally wrote for other people. My first record is dear to my heart because of the lyrical content; some of the production holds up better than other parts.

retroDan: what songs off of your solo records are you most proud of?

Brent: “Total Surrender” may be my favorite. “Perfect Harmony”, and “God Is Not Dead” as well. “Can’t Feel the Pain” is close to my heart. The song “Matter of Feel” is good. Listen to Total Surrender from the album Come Join the Living World

retroDan: going back to you biggest hit with Bourgeois Tagg’s “I Don’t Mind At All” - can you share a little bit about how that song came about?

Brent: Lyle Workman came over to my house and gave me a cassette with guitar music so I could co-write with him. As he was leaving, he said as an afterthought, check out the other side, too. The ‘other side’ was the guitar part to I Don’t Mind At All. I don’t remember the song he originally wanted me to hear.

retroDan: the song is a bit unique in terms of instrumentation compared to the rest of the album. where did the idea of the XTC/Beatle-esque string arrangement come from?

Brent: It was our intention from the beginning to do a Beatles style string arrangement on it. Lyle and I hacked our way through it at Todd’s house one day. Listen to I Don’t Mind At All from the album YoYo by Bourgeois Tagg

retroDan: personally, i think your version of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” is one of the highlights of your 1990 debut album. the vocal arrangements during the middle and outro sections are simply fantastic. why did you choose to record a Zombies cover for your debut album?

Brent: I don’t remember exactly why I did it, but I always loved the song. I thought it opened itself up to wonderful harmonies. It was one of those things that I thought was great at the time, but might seem too excessive now.

retroDan: Your 1995 release Come Join the Living World still sounds fresh and relevant after all these years. the album spawned four #1 christian radio hits and was well received by fans and critics alike. normally an artist would quickly record a follow up album to keep the momentum going but you chose a take a different path. can you share with us your reasons for not continuing as a solo artist?

Brent: If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Actually on top of what you mentioned, I had another record guaranteed by the record company. Despite four #1 songs and great reviews (what else could you want?) the album sold like cold cakes. I went to Nashville with the intention of seeing whether producing or being an artist would be the path I would take. When the record didn’t sell, it was very discouraging. I felt like ‘what else could I have done?’ But fortunately, everything else was going just fine. I did quite a bit of writing with Michael W. Smith, and through that, went on the road with him as his music director. By the time I came back, Reunion Records was ready to pay me not to do the second record and I took the money. I think it was then that I produced Cindy Morgan’s Listen record and was offered the VP of A&R job at Word. That was the effective end of my solo career.

retroDan: the 1999 project Streams that you produced with Loren Balman seems to be an extention of your song “Restored” from “Come Join the Living World”. How did the Streams project come about?

Brent: That might be a better answer to the last question. Streams was just an extension of me sung by other artists. It is the record I am most proud of. I consider it the high point of my career.

retroDan: “The Only Thing I Need” off of Streams is one of the songs you wrote for the album. listening to the song the vocalist from 4Him seems to be mimicing your signature vocal inflections during the verses. were they working off a recorded demo of you singing that song?

Brent: Well that’s gonna happen when you write a song that’s so in your own wheelhouse. If you listen to Michael W. Smith’s “Cry For Love” or “Live the Life” you can hear my demo in his singing as well. I always thought Charlie Peacock’s artists always ended sounding like him, too. The Only Thing I Need, by the way, is one of me own favorite songs. With Cindy Morgan, the task was erase her last producer’s voice out of her singing. He sang like Anita Baker, believe it or not, and it was influencing her. My job was to help her find her own voice. Same with Rachael Lampa- the best pure singer I’ve ever heard- and she was 14-15 years old! But she was influenced by Mariah and we had to squeegee it out of her.

retroDan: and how in the world were you able to get Jon “Mr. Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there!” Anderson to agree to sing on a Christian album?

Brent: He sang it because…it was there! He was there. We were there. The same thing happened on “Can’t Feel the Pain”. When I wrote the melody for that song, I swear that I was thinking of Christine McVie. When we were recording the song, Fleetwood Mac was in the next room mixing- they had a lot of time on their hands, as it basically took thenm two week to . Christine popped her head in when I was listening back and said, “What is that? It’s lovely.” And I said it’s meant for you to sing on, and she did. The same thing happened with Jon Anderson. I had always thought of his voice for The Only Thing I Need and by a God-sized coincidence, there he was. He saw absolutely no irony in the whole thing- Mr. New Age singing on a Christian record. Some Christian radio stations, however, were less forgiving that an ‘infidel’ had sang on a Christian record. The nerve of us! This was one of the many little cuts that drove me from the business.

retroDan: You produced Cindy Morgan’s cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Love is the Answer” for her “Best Of” compilation. who’s idea was it to cover a Rundgren song?

Brent: That was Cindy’s idea, and I sure wasn’t going to talk her out of it. Ironically, she (and most people like her) knew the song from Seals and Crofts and I took her back to the Todd version.

retroDan: and isn’t it a bit odd for a Christian artist to cover a songwriter that is also known for writing songs like “Fascist Christ” and “God Said”?

Brent: Hell, no! Those sentiments are extremely overrated. Another of the things that drove me out of the Christian music world. I wasn’t meant for it, apparently.

retroDan: Did you ever get any feedback from Rundgren about Morgan’s cover of “Love is the Answer”?

Brent: He wouldn’t have heard it; if he did, he wouldn’t have cared.

retroDan: are you as frustrated as we (your fans) are about your solo albums not being in print?

Brent: Frustrated enough not to do anymore!

retroDan: will any of the albums be re-issued in the near future?

Brent: When hell freezes over and pigs fly.

retroDan: if a record company has no intention of re-releasing an album, what can an artist or fan do to get the album back out for fans to enjoy and listen to?

Brent: Terrorism is mildly effective. Disgruntled post office workers have had the right idea in the past.

retroDan: You touched on the fact that you left the Christian Music industry earlier in the interview. Could you share with us a little bit more on why you left (as well as your views on the industry)?

Brent: I would preface my answer by saying two things: First, what I say here is my opinion, my side of the story. You might get a different picture by asking someone else. Secondly, I haven’t been involved in the Christian music industry except on the periphery for over five years, so I can’t really comment on the state of the industry today. My comments can only be seen as what I thought of it as I left. There is a famous Woody Allen (or is it Groucho Marx?) quote that says, “I wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have me as a member.” In the following criticism, be aware that I consider myself to have been part of the problem. The Christian music industry by the time I left had become seriously compromised by its own success. Starting out as a ministry-based group of guys that banded together to find a way to get their records released, the business morphed into a multi-multi-million dollar industry ripe for being plucked by big conglomerates. The original sin was to sell to one of these companies. Not that I wouldn’t have done it if I was in their position. No one knows what they will do when millions of dollars are waved in your face unless it actually happens. The opportunity to provide for your family for the rest of your life is one that is hard to turn down. Nonetheless, the minute this happened, the Christian music industry lost its raison d’etre. Now, instead of being ministry-based organizations that also happened to be successful financially, they became another cog in the wheel of massive corporations, beholden to their business plans and quarterly P & L and ROI statements for their shareholders. These conglomerates snatched up Christian companies to grab another piece of market share away form their competitors. They didn’t (and don’t) care a whit about ministry anything. When the Christian companies sold out to secular corporations, they lost control of their business model. The attitude I saw was ‘if you can make money and still do your ministry thing, okay, but the first order of business is to make money. If you (meaning the CEO) can’t do it, we’ll get somebody who can’. My own personal interaction with this was at Word Records. Roland Lundy was the CEO at Word, had been there for 28 years, from the beginning, and was a really good, caring Christian man who cared about his artists, and treated everyone in the organization like family. Roland used to have a weekly prayer gathering on Monday mornings in the lobby for the whole company. After selling the company to Gaylord Entertainment (and they looking to prop the numbers up to resell it at a profit) the word (no pun intended) came down: quarterly numbers needed to be better; do whatever is necessary; if you can’t we’ll get somebody who can. Shortly thereafter, Lundy was fired and an entertainment lawyer, Malcolm Mimms, was picked to replace him. Mimms was a good lawyer but he wasn’t even a Christian, and the whole face and attitude of the company changed. The entire focus of the company became to jettison all unnecessary ballast so the company could be resold. The focus also increasingly became the aping of the secular music scene, a problem that wasn’t new by any means, but was actively put into overdrive. Here’s where I readily admit I was part of the problem. That was my forté. There was really no other reason I would have been hired. I had pop sensibilities, a pop worldview, and although I was, and am a Christian, I had a very cynical view of how to get things done in that world. My method was to take things right up to line of what was acceptable in the uptight world of Christian retail, and this was a very mixed bag. Although I feel like I did some really good work (Streams, Cindy Morgan, and Point of Grace), I also actively flaunted the rules in every way I could, with a nod and a wink form my superiors. In the end, this illogical circle couldn’t continue. There was so much hypocrisy in what we were doing, and I mean we, that it felt evil and toxic. The other big thing happening toward the end of my time there was that the entire music industry was in a freefall marking the beginning of the Internet Revolution. The value of every company was falling faster than the companies knew how to fix it. I left the company before I would have inevitably been fired, for the company soon sold to Warner Entertainment and virtually everyone who worked at the company above the level of mailboy was fired. They eliminated my position, which was VP of A&R. Record companies now are literal shells of their former selves, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They eliminated most of the creative jobs, though, and outsourced them, leaving only the accountants and lawyers. It tells you what they view as important. In the end, although as I said I’m not close to the biz anymore, I think the Christian industry has gotten back to what it does best, and what it was supposed to do, and that is music for the church. Praise and worship. It’s a smaller business now, but that’s good, too. And I’m not in it, and that’s probably best for everyone as well.

retroDan: so, are you out of the music biz completely? or will you still be producing other artists, playing sessions, writing songs etc?

Brent: I am in all reality out of the music business. I do a little local commercial work, and help out musically with some local theater because my daughters are participants, but I don’t have any contact with anyone in the music business anymore. It’s not like they’re beating a path to my door, either. I think it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

retroDan: So what’s next for Brent Bourgeois?

Brent: I’m writing books. I’m going to school full time to get the degree I never thought I would need. I’m raising four children. I’m watching my youngest daughter right now at a Comp soccer tournament.

retroDan: Where are you attending school and what degree are you working toward?

Brent: Right now I’m finishing up my second year at Sacramento City College, and plan to major in International Relations.

retroDan: Could you tell us more about the book you’re writing?

Brent: I am writing an historical novel about George W. Bush— specifically from 9/11 until the 2004 election. It is a re-writing of events in sort of Bizarro World, where the President is visited in three dreams like Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and undergoes a sea-change of attitude which gets him in trouble with his own party, and eventually costs him the election. It’s a lot of fun to write. If I couldn’t influence events the first time, I can make up my own version.

retroDan: Do you foresee any new recorded material from you coming our way?

Brent: Not unless the audiobook of my historical novel comes out!

retroDan: Or how making available demos, outtakes or old material from the vault on your website for fans to listen to?

Brent: No plans to do that. Can’t see that I’d have the time or the inclination.

retroDan: OK, time to wrap this up and end with the speed round! -what are you currently listening to?

Brent: I love Imogen Heap. I liked the most recent Tears For Fears record. Sufjan Stevens is nice. I’m listening to a lot of old Stevie Wonder and Weather Report. I have a soft spot for Bjork, and for Eisley. I must mention Patty Griffin in any conversation of favorite anythings.

-what are you currently reading?

Brent: Gawd, I read so much! I just finished Mao: The Unknown Story . I usually have three or four books going at once. I also just finished House of War: The Pentagon . I read a lot. Did I mention that I read a lot?

-protools. friend or foe?

Brent: Friend. But it’s only as good as the song.

-the autotune plugin. friend or foe?

Brent: Friend. Necessary evil. Only as good as the singer.

-your favorite meal?

Brent: Mexican food, or pizza. Thai, Indian, anything spicy.

-a favorite quote.

Brent: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!

retroDan: love it! Thanks Brent!